Occupying a set of three colonial-era buildings in the heart of Saigon, the Museum of Fine Arts is packed with ancient sculptures, classical paintings, and contemporary canvases. It’s all worth full attention, but we found ourselves moving too rapidly through the rooms, because there was simply so much to see.
The yellow and white building mansion which contains the bulk of the museum’s collection dates from 1929. This is largest building, and the one in which you’ll spend the most time. The museum has an entrancing atmosphere of age and neglect. The rooms are large and airy, and when there’s few other visitors (as I imagine is usually the case), it can feel like you’re exploring an old mansion. The elevator, sadly defunct, is itself a work of art.
Although several international artists are included in the collection, the museum’s focus is on Vietnamese art. We loved the large lacquer canvases, the delicate paintings done on silk, and the modern paintings related to the war. Some pieces were obviously influenced by western art, but we liked best the ones which felt more local, including a few with a decidedly communist bent.
The museum’s other two buildings also span multiple floors, and focus more on the country’s ancient culture and religious art. There are ceramics, wooden altars inlaid with mother-of-pearl, and statues of deities from vanished empires like the Funan and Cham. These buildings are as old as the main hall, and the architecture just as cool. Jürgen spent at least twenty minutes photographing the staircases.
Given the ridiculously low cost of entry (around $1) and central location, visiting the Museum of Fine Arts is really a no-brainer, unless you have absolutely no interest in art. And you really should have some interest in art.